With the Royal Rumble now just days away, the WWE will be faced with the task of putting on a quality go-home edition of SmackDown this week. Although Raw received mixed reviews, it certainly furthered storylines and got fans excited for the Rumble, so the WWE will attempt to do something similar with the blue brand as well.
The main feud worth paying attention to is the one between WWE Champion CM Punk and The Rock. Punk got the better of Rock on Monday as The Shield attacked The Great One, but Vince McMahon revealed that Punk would be stripped of his title if The Shield got involved again at the Royal Rumble. The Rock is being advertised for the show, so it will be interesting to see if he and Punk interact or if they're kept away from each other again.
Several other rivalries are heating up as well, including the one between World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio and the Big Show. Also, Team Hell No will defend the Tag Team Championships against Team Rhodes Scholars at the Royal Rumble, and with their partnership seemingly on shaky ground, they need to go into Sunday on a high note.
Here are the top five things that you should be looking for while watching this week's episode of SmackDown as the WWE prepares for the Royal Rumble.
After appearing on SmackDown a couple weeks ago, The Rock will once again show up on the show named after his signature catchphrase this week. The Rock cut a promo on CM Punk on Raw and it appeared as though he was going to get the last laugh, but he was attacked by The Shield and left in a heap in the middle of the ring. It was then announced by the WWE that The Rock was suffering from "internal bleeding" following The Shield's vicious beatdown.
Because of that attack, The Rock will unquestionably be looking for redemption on SmackDown. I found it interesting that The Rock and Punk were kept separated on Monday as The Rock was in the ring and Punk was in a luxury box. The brawled the week before and The Rock hit Punk with a Rock Bottom the week before that, so the WWE actually decided to tone down the physical contact with the Royal Rumble drawing nearer.
Perhaps the WWE will once again opt to keep The Rock and Punk apart on SmackDown, but I'm hoping that they'll at least cut a promo on each other. I was a bit disappointed that Punk didn't do much to rebut The Rock's promo on Monday, so I'd like to see him be a bit more vocal this time around. Whatever the case, I don't anticipate either man gaining the upper hand. The Rock got Punk with a Rock Bottom a few weeks back and The Shield took The Rock out on Raw, so the score is essentially even.
One thing I'm quite sure of is that The Rock won't be made to look bad two shows in a row. He was already attacked by The Shield, so I doubt that the WWE will follow that up with a GTS from Punk on SmackDown. I would personally like to see these guys go into the Royal Rumble on equal footing because it wouldn't tip the WWE's hand either way. Most believe that The Rock will leave the Royal Rumble as WWE Champion, but it could truly go either way, and the WWE needs to play that up on SmackDown.
After Big Show's dominant run as World Heavyweight Champion, including a pair of clean wins over Sheamus, it seemed highly unlikely that Alberto Del Rio could potentially unseat the giant. Del Rio was in a state of flux as he had just turned face and the fans were just starting to embrace him. Del Rio overcame all odds and defeated Big Show in a Last Man Standing match on SmackDown a couple weeks ago to win the title, however. Now he and Big Show are set to face off once again at the Royal Rumble.
It was announced on Monday that their Rumble match will once again be of the Last Man Standing variety, so it should be quite entertaining. Before we see that match, however, they're likely to have one last encounter on SmackDown. For the most part, Del Rio has had the last laugh each and every time they have come face to face since winning the title. He attacked Big Show on Raw after Big Show complained to Vince McMahon about losing the title and then he threw water in Big Show's face on last week's SmackDown.
Big Show has essentially been embarrassed at every turn by Del Rio, so he'll be none too happy this week. Since Del Rio has dominated the feud and essentially nobody believes that Big Show has a chance to win at the Royal Rumble, I have no doubt that he will stand tall on SmackDown in order to create the illusion that he could regain the World Heavyweight Championship. With that said, the truth is that the odds of him winning are quite long.
Although I haven't exactly been captivated by the Del Rio vs. Big Show feud, it hasn't been a bad rivalry, particularly since it is taking a back seat to The Rock vs. CM Punk as well as the Royal Rumble match. Del Rio has been far more interesting as a face than he was as a heel and I have been extremely impressed with his transformation. He has a lot more potential than Big Show does at this point, but Show needs to be the one who looks strong on SmackDown.
While Team Hell No's partnership started off rocky, they quickly won the Tag Team Championships and have managed to find some common ground since then. They aren't exactly the best of friends, but Kane and Daniel Bryan have developed into a dangerous and cohesive unit. Their impressive run with the tag titles could very well be coming to an end on Sunday, though, as they will defend them against a hungry Rhodes Scholars squad that is out to taste tag team gold for the first time as a unit.
Kane and Bryan are comedic gold and they delivered again on Monday when they graduated from Dr. Shelby's anger management class. That ceremony could very well have been the beginning of the end for Team Hell No, though, as it seemed to suggest that they might go their separate ways. Kane and Bryan also came to the ring during the closing segment and argued about who would win the Royal Rumble match, so I can see them eliminating each other after already losing the Tag Team Championships.
Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow have been knocking on the door for quite some time, but Team Hell No has turned them aside on several occasions. Since both Kane and Bryan could go back to singles wrestling right now and succeed, it makes sense to put the titles on Team Rhodes Scholars and allow both Kane and Bryan to explore other options.
I love Team Hell No and don't necessarily want to see it broken up, but Kane and Bryan can't remain a team forever. They did a lot in terms of revitalizing the tag team division, but they can basically pass the torch to Team Rhodes Scholars. Signs of dissension are popping up for Kane and Bryan and I would be very surprised if they are able to retain their titles on Sunday.
The Shield has been a huge part of WWE programming ever since the group's debut at Survivor Series, but it is still unclear what its motives are. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have said on several occasions that they are attempting to eradicate injustice from the WWE, but they have targeted a wide variety of faces, including Ryback, Randy Orton, Sheamus, John Cena and others. They even took out The Rock on Monday after he cut a promo on CM Punk. The Shield's status is now quite uncertain, however.
After The Shield took out The Rock, Vince McMahon informed Punk and Paul Heyman that if they get involved in Punks' match vs. The Rock at the Royal Rumble, Punk will be stripped of the WWE Championship that he has held for well over 400 days. The Shield has stuck its nose in Punk's business on several occasions and has helped him defend his title against Ryback and Cena at Survivor Series, as well as against Ryback in a TLC match on Raw a few weeks ago. Without their help, Punk could be in serious trouble.
The Shield could still potentially interfere in Punk's match at the Royal Rumble, but it would obviously complicate matters. My guess is that The Shield will either enter the Rumble legally or interfere during it to take out the likes of Ryback, Orton and Sheamus. They haven't been announced as entrants into the Rumble match, but they were mentioned in the Royal Rumble commercial and I would personally like to see them as actual entrants into the match.
If nothing else, the stipulation that has been placed on Punk's match could prove once and for all if they are actually working for Punk. If they do interfere, then it's quite obvious that they're a rogue group that answers to nobody. If they don't interject themselves into the Punk vs. Rock match, however, it's fairly likely that they are operating in an effort to keep the WWE Championship on Punk.
With the Royal Rumble match taking up much of the Rumble card, there usually aren't many undercard matches to speak of. The WWE Championship match between CM Punk and The Rock is set, as is the World Heavyweight Championship match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show, and the Tag Team Championship match between Team Hell No and Team Rhodes Scholars. On top of that, it was announced that Antonio Cesaro will defend his United States Championship against The Miz on the Royal Rumble pre-show.
That leaves one or possibly two slots for matches to be added on the main card. The obvious addition would be a Divas Championship match. Kaitlyn recently won the title from a departing Eve, but she hasn't yet found another rival to defend it against. I thought that a No. 1 contender might be named on Raw, but that didn't happen. Perhaps it will come to fruition on SmackDown, though. Whatever the case, I figure Kaitlyn will be facing somebody in a fairly short match at the Royal Rumble.
Other than that, I don't really anticipate anything else being added. The only other match that would make sense is an Intercontinental Championship bout. Wade Barrett was been somewhat of a rover with no obvious feud, though, so I'm not sure who he would even face. Because of that, he'll likely just focus on the Royal Rumble match.
The card itself is already quite impressive, so it doesn't need much else added. The Rumble match and the WWE title match should both be great, while the other matches have plenty of potential as well. A Divas Championship match could serve as a good buffer between the top two matches on the card if the WWE feels it needs to do that. I could easily see the Rumble go off, followed by a Divas match and then the WWE Championship contest. No matter where it is on the card, a Divas match will be added in all likelihood.